Greetings, Glancers! It didn’t us long to get back to Black Sabbath. This time though we ring the changes, as Ozzy Osbourne has been replaced by the great Ronnie James Dio. I definitely know at least two of the songs on offer here, but I’ve never heard them in relation to the album. There honestly isn’t a lot to say about the album artwork – it’s not very Metal, but it does have smoking and gambling and big-titted Angels, so I guess it kinda sorta almost qualifies. I don’t have much else to say, so lets do this!
Neon Knights: Well, this certainly has a different sound from early Sabbath. It sounds eerily similar to Broken Algorithms by Manic Street Preachers. Dio’s vocals are a major part of the transformation but even before he start singing the guitars are chunkier, the tone isn’t as melancholy, and the sound is more upbeat. This being Dio, he’s singing about more fantastical subjects. It’s faster than what I tend to think of when I think of Sabbath, there’s not a slow, doom riff, but there is a blistering solo.
Children Of The Sea: This is one I do know, and again it feels more like a Dio song than a traditional Sabbath song. Lyrically, tonally, there is a definite shift. Possibly this is as much to do with the time that had passed since Sabbath first emerged and that they didn’t want to plough the same fields. In any case this is a slower groove, opening in an acoustic ballad style before crunching chords and funky bass come in. The two parts meld well and there’s another Iommi skin-melter in the middle.
Lady Evil: A fat bass intro hints at a more traditional Sabbath sound, but that’s blown away when the guitars drop. The drive and tone is more like a halfway point between 70s Rock and 80s Hair Metal. It’s silly fun, you’ll punch the steering wheel if you drive to this, but it doesn’t have the atmospheric edge of Sabbath’s best or the grandiosity of Dio’s. A perfectly fine album track.
Heaven And Hell: The title track and the other one I know. I hate to keep repeating myself but once again it feels like a Dio song rather than a Sabbath song. It also feels like a Maiden song – specifically Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. It goes without saying, but Dio’s vocals are exquisite. Like that Maiden song, there’s a long and meandering instrumental section. This one picks up during the instrumental, solo and drums gathering speed before a frenetic climax and half a minute of quiet tinkling.
Wishing Well: Another light-hearted rocker with that 70/80s hard rock vibe. Not much to say beyond the fact that it’s a driving rock song – more great bass work, the drums haven’t been as noticeable on the other tracks but they do standout here. It’s a simple, straightforward, fist-pumping song that everyone can enjoy.
Die Young: An atomospheric, spacey intro goes into more prog sounding territory than what Sabbath would usually try. It doesn’t last and we rapidly thunder into the fastest song so far. This one is very Maiden-esque too, it’s only lacking the double guitar thrust. We withdraw into a nifty little quiet, spacey section before embarking on another leg of insanity.
Walk Away: A mid-paced stomper raised by Dio’s character and quality. It’s a simple song once more with not many detours, although we do still get a decent standalone section for the solo to fit into.
Lonely Is The Word: The closest thing to a riff led song so far, this has a very simple, very repetitive riff. It’s a slow one with a terrific layered guitar section from around the two minute mark which just keeps going, reminding us what a talent Iommi is – not just a master of riffs he can peel off fiddling fret work with the best of them. Dio does his best with the vocals but the melodies don’t allow him to hit any real emotive heights. As if to highlight the master of the guitar work the band steals one of Page’s moments from Stairway To Heaven and deploys it as a keyboard refrain as the song fades out. An epic closer which could have been better if the vocal melodies were more potent.
A very consistent album with no weak link, this is an album which sounds fresher than it should given that it was released in the 1980s. It manages to circumvent most of the problems metal would suffer from in the 80s. While none of the songs, on first listen, have the impact of an Iron Man or a Paranoid, they are a lot of fun and the band feels almost rejuvenated. It always takes time to hit your stride when you onboard a new vocalist, but this is a promising start. I haven’t heard much of Sabbath’s 80s input but if it’s all like this then I’ll have no complaints.
Let us know what you think in the comments!
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Die Young. Neon Knights. Children Of The Sea. Lonely Is The Word.